It seems the only time the issue of guns and gun control is at the forefront of the national conversation is after a tragedy like that of Sandy Hook Elementary School. At the same time though, as the nation ponders the issue, there are also societal murmurings and whispers that we must not politicize this event, or use it to advance political agendas. Here lies the crux of the problem of gun violence in our country. The only time we as a society think about reforming gun laws occurs simultaneously with an understanding that we must not use one event – one tragedy – to determine the laws of our nation.
So we are stuck with the status quo. We are stuck with a system where attaining a gun comes with relative ease, including guns meant for killing. Assault rifles, semi-automatics, and high-capacity magazines can all be legally obtained. These are weapons not for sport, not for hunting, and not for personal protection; they are weapons designed to kill.
Advocates of guns will give their usual objections about gun control laws after tragedies like the one that occurred last week, saying people like the shooter are insane, mentally disturbed individuals; gun control laws will not prevent people from shooting up schools, malls or movie theatres. This may be true. It may be impossible to create gun control laws to stop disturbed individuals intent on killing indiscriminately from doing precisely that.
But, let’s remember, the vast majority of victims of gun violence are not the victims of mass shootings. Gun violence happens daily. There were close to 9,000 gun related homicides in 2011 accounting for 67 percent of all homicides, and the frequency of gun violence in the United States is much greater than that of other OECD countries; however, it takes a national tragedy for us to talk about gun control. This is problematic because the dialogue around reforming gun laws centers on trying to prevent the next Sandy Hook, or the next Aurora movie theatre, which is without a doubt, a difficult task.
A not as difficult task is creating laws that will help curb all the other forms of gun violence. Restricting access to guns, and banning guns solely meant for killing is a good start. A Harvard Study discovered that where there are more guns there are more homicides – a not-so-groundbreaking revelation. This coupled with the fact that the majority of guns are obtained legally leads us to conclude that if guns were harder to obtain, gun violence would be reduced.
Instead of implementing reasonable gun control laws, we do nothing because we become ensconced with the belief that no amount of laws will prevent insane individuals from shooting up public places. We let the extreme cases of gun violence paralyze all gun-related policy. Instead of enacting reasonable laws like stricter background checks, closing the gun show loophole, banning semi-automatic and assault weapons, increasing funding for mental health problems, and banning magazines and clips that hold inexplicable amounts of ammunition, we do nothing. We hide behind the excuse that these laws will not stop all gun violence.
However, just because these laws may not have stopped Adam Lanza or James Eagan Holmes from committing such horrifying acts doesn’t mean new laws would be useless or in vain. Gun violence is so prevalent in this country that homicides simply become statistics, and it’s only until we face mass murder that we stop charting those statistics and put a face to them. It’s why only after a shooting rampage do we think about reforming gun control laws. Let’s remember, every statistic is a person, a person with a family and friends, and if stricter gun control laws can prevent just one of those cases, I say it’s worth it.
This doesn’t mean restricting individual freedoms, or eviscerating the Second Amendment. I’m not saying all guns should be banned, but gun ownership is a privilege, not a right, and therefore it should come with restrictions. The goal of gun control laws is not to make us less free – but to make us safer.